SWANLOG DIARY, Sunday. 18 September 2011. Hastings Old Town


Sunday. 18 September 2011. Hastings Old Town.

Taking a feather dipped in the blood of my companion, who is visibly wasting before my eyes – and seizing every opportunity to demonstrate the extent of the damage by peeling off jacket and shirt like a Premier League footballer who has scored an accidental goal – I make these notes on bills for pizza orders; which I will later toss over the side when the swan comes close to human habitation.

Last night the swan pedalo, a female, was liberated from Swan Lake by the film-maker Andrew Kötting. It had been, up to that moment, a propitious evening. Coming away from Marine Court I ran into the poet Nicholas Johnson, who was pushing a large Spanish pram and carrying out his latest seaside project, the growing of a beard. Nicholas was accompanied by a beautiful infant, his daughter; a creature who, only a few months in this sorry world, was already pulling herself up to get a better look at it, or at the smiling porter, her father. Nicholas, among his many activities, promotions, migrations, had published several of my most invisible books. Some, it was rumoured, were now stacked in a sailmaker’s loft in the Old Town.

The sense of anticipation, walking towards the burnt-out pier, was extreme. A weak rainbow, arching out over the pier and into the bay, seems to mark the very point at which an unlucky swan would go down. Add to this natural effect, after a day of sun and showers, the lightshow of the golden hour and the burning disk of the sun dropping behind Bexhill. The whole business was supremely cinematic, but too obvious for the film crew who delayed their arrival, in a monster RV, a mobile dormitory/cookhouse, until the Turneresque dramas were safely over.

I parted from Nicholas who had mislaid his partner. He warned me that the official launch of the swan, on Tuesday, would be accompanied by a choir from the Women’s Institute.

What this long first evening reminded me was that film is what happens when the key moment has passed. There is the thing done, which can be posthumously described, mythologized, and there is the thing predicted, scripted, cleared by finance, health and security, which never quite happens. Or not in the way the book says. Nobody mentioned, by way of example, that when I returned to Marine Court, with my dripping, swan-feather scribbings on greasy paper, builders would be demolishing chunks of cancerous concrete outside my window, on my very balcony, with a noise like RRRRRRRRRRRGHRRRRRGHRRRRR. Like counting the infinite seconds as the tusks of a giant walrus are drilled.


Kötting, in waders, entered the water. He released a swan, bonded with it at once, and coaxed it to the rim of the pool. With some assistance, and a few acerbic asides from your correspondent, the creature was wrestled onto dry land. Furtive couples, benched in the neighbourhood, were not much interested. A dog-walker looked at me. I was standing, as instructed, under a lightpole.

‘What’s he doing?’

‘Stealing a swan.’

‘Oh, right. Night then.’


We got it, by the time the stars did not appear, to the shore, over humped contours of shingle. And there it waited. Eyes blank as eggs. Kötting had chosen well with his crew. They indulged him and took the strangeness of this night with no backbiting, no shows of pique or vanity.

I thought of WS Graham’s The Nightfishing.

Now within the dead

Of night and the dead

Of my life I hear

My name called from far out.

I’ve come to this place

(Come to this place)

Which I’ll not pass

Though one shall pass

Wearing seemingly

This look I move as.


Nick, on camera (on many cameras), says that he quite likes a bit of poetry.

1 comment to SWANLOG DIARY, Sunday. 18 September 2011. Hastings Old Town

  • nicholas johnson

    dear Iain,
    you should have blogged our discussion of the shaven headed writer the gay biker convention..
    it is the hastings womens choir, of which rebel, [rebecca] is member that were to singh you off, with RIDE A WHITE SWAN, T.REX,
    will send you an email

    i am no further than before with a neptune like beard, but my dog that Maria rescued, mother of Leonor, is \called Barbas.. he is often to be seen and smelt in the studio, which had lots of fish boxes in lobby recently

Leave a Reply

You can use these HTML tags

<a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>




nineteen − 8 =

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.